Vanderbilt University Requires Nursing Students to Do Abortions

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 11, 2011   |   1:01PM   |   Nashville, TN

Vanderbilt University is the subject of a federal complaint filed today by officials with the Alliance Defense Fund over requiring nursing students to participate in abortions.

ADF, a pro-life legal group, filed the complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services saying it illegally forces the students to do the abortions despite receiving $300 million in federal tax dollars each year. Federal law prohibits grant recipients from forcing students or health care workers to participate in abortions contrary to their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

The complaint was filed on behalf of a fourth-year nursing student at another university who wants to apply to Vanderbilt’s nurse residency program but won’t do so because of the abortion policy. She says Vanderbilt admission forms require her to promise to participate in abortions.

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman commented on the case and said, “Christians and other pro-life members of the medical community shouldn’t be forced to participate in abortions to pursue their profession.”

“People enter the medical profession to protect and heal the helpless. Federal law protects them from being required to kill the helpless. The law clearly states that grant recipients cannot accept taxpayer dollars and require health care workers to participate in abortions, which is precisely what Vanderbilt is doing,” Bowman added.

The nurse residency application the nursing program at Vanderbilt uses clearly requires the abortion pledge, and goes as far as encouraging nursing candidates to pursue other vocational goals if they refuse to participate in abortions.

“If you are chosen for the Nurse Residency Program in the Women’s Health track, you will be expected to care for women undergoing termination of pregnancy. Procedures performed in the Labor and Delivery unit include…terminations of pregnancy,” it states. “If you feel you cannot provide care to women during this type of event, we encourage you to apply to a different track of the Nurse Residency Program to explore opportunities that may best fit your skills and career goals.”

But Vanderbilt University officials are denying the claim.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman John Howser told the Tennessean newspaper the guidelines mean nursing students may provide care to women who will seek or may have sought abortions, but don’t have to participate in abortions themselves.

“The letter was added in order to create an awareness that terminations are performed here at Vanderbilt,” Howser said. “If you choose to participate (in the nurse residency program), you will be around patients who have had or are seeking terminations, and you may be asked to care for them. It does not say that you are required to participate in performing or in the performance of terminations.”

Howser said the college has a longstanding policy of allowing employees and students to opt out of activities due to religious beliefs, ethical views or for other similar reasons: “This policy also applies to applicants to our nursing residency program who may be requested to participate in the care of women who seek medical care associated with the termination of pregnancy.”

But David French, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, said he doesn’t understand why Vanderbilt doesn’t include that in the nursing student packet. Without it, pro-life students are deterred from joining the program.

“The issue here is their application materials,” French said. “You can’t create a better way to screen out pro-life applicants if you try. That violates the (federal law) regardless of whatever policy they might have.”

The ADF letter to HHS urges immediate action because of an upcoming deadline in the nursing program.

“Because the deadline for Vanderbilt’s nurse residency applications is January 28, 2011, it is imperative that HHS immediately act to prohibit Vanderbilt from rejecting or discriminating against nurse residency applicants…who do not wish to promise that they will assist abortions,” the letter says.

ADF says the potential nursing student who filed the complainant “can and is prepared to submit all that the application requires and to fulfill all of the program’s requirements, except only that she has a religious objection to participating in abortions and to promising to do so by signing the Application’s letter.”

“We repeatedly see universities and other users of taxpayer dollars tell students and staff that they must submit to the institution’s preferred ideology or take a hike,” said ADF Senior Counsel David French. “What many of these institutions truly want–besides money–are people who share their leftist political and social views.”

The case comes on the heels of another ADF is involved with that revolves around a nurse who was forced by a hospital to assist in an abortion.

Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo lost a federal court ruling saying she doesn’t have the right to sue the hospital that forced her to participate in an abortion.

ADF is currently involved in a second lawsuit in New York state court to defend Cenzon-DeCarlo’s conscience rights under state law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld the dismissal of her federal lawsuit, leaving only an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the means to defend her rights protected under federal law.

While medical workers and potential medical workers face problems of hospitals and medical programs not respecting their conscience on abortion, the Obama administration admitted in legal papers in December that it is still pursuing the overturning of additional conscience protections the administration of pro-life President George W. Bush put in place in 2008.